In 2013, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services was awarded a Safe Schools/Healthy Students (SS/HS) grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Pennsylvania’s initiative intended to respond to the realization among top state officials in Education, Behavioral Health, and Juvenile Justice, along with youth and families, of the need to join forces to address the most difficult challenges for schools and communities. Pennsylvania set out to build infrastructure and support three local implementation sites to develop a comprehensive, integrated approach to promote the social, emotional, and behavioral health for all young people as an extension of the state’s existing commitments to both a schoolwide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) imperative and a holistic system of care for students with serious emotional disturbance and their families.
In the ensuing years, the commonwealth has largely succeeded in accomplishing its ambitious aim. Nowhere has its success been more remarkable than in bringing to reality its longstanding commitment to authentic partnership among students, families, and systems. Read this spotlight to understand how multiple Pennsylvania communities are demonstrating both the positive value of authentic youth engagement, and techniques that are bringing those benefits to the systems change process.